Determining and Questioning Cognitive Style (Sadler-Smith)

Determining and Questioning Cognitive Style (Sadler-Smith)

12130 views | Ruby | 08-01-2017

Sadler-Smith (2001) wrote a detailed paper to investigate the notion of innovation in cognitive style. Cognitive style may be defined as an individual’s inherent way of organising and processing information. It is independent of cognitive ability and may have an important bearing on individual performance within and across organisational settings, for example in the areas of vocational and occupational preferences, management competence, performance, training, development and organisational learning. The best style becomes more habitual and observable behaviour.

Sadler-Smith’s Cognitive Styles
  • Intuition-Analysis: The argument lies between the two hemispheres of the brain. The tendency is for one ‘hemisphere’ to dominate thinking and behaviour. The right brain functions (intuition, simultaneity, receptivity, imagination and impulsivity) are those which characterise entrepreneurial behaviour. Described by Slater and Narver as having high tolerance of risk, pro-activeness, receptivity to innovation and resistance to norms. ‘Left brain’ functions, on the other hand, signal project leading-type roles (planning and coordinating various activities to achieve a goal). The Cognitive Style Index (CSI) developed by Allison and Hayes is a self-report type questionnaire consisting of 38 items, it is a psychometric measure, each item has choices like ‘true’, ‘uncertain’, ‘false’ as response options. Armstrong (1999) extended the list to 54. the higher the score the more analytical and less intuitive an individual’s style, and vice versa.
  • Adaption-Innovation: The underlying assumption is that individuals differ in how they approach change, problem-solving, creativity and decision-making. Adaptors are characterised by precision, reliability, efficiency, discipline and conformity. They seek solutions to problems in previously understood and tested ways. On the other hand, the innovators are known for undisciplined thinking and indirect approaches to tasks and problem-solving. They are unable to work for long periods. An individual’s position on the adaption-innovation continuum is assessed by Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI). The KAI is a 32-item inventory, with each item scored on a five-point scale. Scores are on a scale from 32 to 160. A person with an adaptive style will usually score in the 60–90 range, whereas a person with an innovative style will score between 110 and 140.
  • Wholist-Analytical: This cognitive style describes the habitual way in which an individual processes information: some individuals process information into its component parts (described as analytics); others retain a global or overall view of information (described as wholists). The problem with wholists can be that they fail to classify parts of a problem. Whereas, analytics may overlook one aspect at the expense of the other in their intricate thinking. An individual’s position on this cognitive style dimension may be assessed quickly and easily using the computer-presented Cognitive Styles Analysis (CSA). This is not a self-report measure but presents cognitive tasks in such a way that it is not evident to the participant exactly what is being measured. Scores are typically in the range of 0.6 (extreme wholist) through 1.00 (intermediate) to 2.70 (extreme analytic)
Sadler-smith states that there are three cognitive styles:

When processes and products can be easily copied and reproduced, researchers argue the importance of individual and organisational learning to win a competitive edge. Slater and Narver suggest that one way in which organisations can enhance competitive advantage is through a forward-looking ‘learning style’ which also facilitates adjustment to the unexpected and makes individuals be able to quickly reconfigure to focus on an ’emergent opportunity or threat’. Glynn argues that it is this ‘adaptive capability’ which underlies intelligent action.

An important role of learning styles is to increase the self-awareness of the individuals of their strengths and weaknesses during the learning process. According to Sadler-Smith (2001), individuals can be taught to monitor their selection and use of various learning styles and strategies by using a wide array of behaviours (both from the preferred style and from what is required in that situation).


Allinson & Hayes, op. cit., Ref. 12.

Sadler-Smith (1998). ‘Cognitive Style: Some Human Resource Implications for Managers’, International Human Resource Management Journal, 19, 1998, pp. 185-202. [online]

Mintzberg (1976). ‘Planning of the Left Side and Managing on the Right’, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1976, pp. 49-58.

A. Glynn (1996). ‘Innovative Genius: A Framework for Relating Individual and Organizational Intelligences’, Academy of Management Review, 21, 1996, p. 1087.

J. Driver (1987). ‘Cognitive Psychology: An Interactionist View’, in: J. w. Lorsch (Ed.), Handbook of Organizational Behavior (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1987).

J. Riding, A. Glass, S. R. Butler & C. W. Pleydell-Pearce (1997). ‘Cognitive Style and Individual Differences in EEG Alpha During Information Processing’, Educational Psychology, 17, 1997, pp. 219-234.

Messick (1984). ‘The Nature of Cognitive Styles: Problems and Promise in Educational Practice’, Educational Psychologist, 19, 1984, pp. 59-74.

Streufert & G. Y. Nogami (1989). ‘Cognitive Style and Complexity: Implications for I/O Psychology’, in: C. L. Cooper & I. Robertson (Eds), International Review of Industrial and Organisational Psychology (Chichester,  Wiley, 1989), p. 94.

Slater & Narver, op. cit., Ref. 4, p.  68.

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